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Can drone hobby take off in India?

Yash Garg
25th Feb 2015
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Scores of drone enthusiasts in India are reeling in shock after finding out (often, the hard way) that the Government of India is cracking down on import of drones. And a lot of products have to do with drones.

There’s certainly a security scare posed by drones, which is something that the government cannot apparently handle at the moment. In fact, it’s not just India where people, especially those from governing bodies, are keeping an eye out on import and use of drones; the difference however is in the manner these bodies have reacted.

drone_ys

Besides governing bodies, drones have also turned into a cause of concern for home dwellers, who’ve joined hands to create NoFlyZone.org, an organization that seeks to work with drone manufacturers in a way such that it allows members to mark their property as ‘no fly zones’, that is areas where drones from affiliated manufacturers won’t be able to fly.

Licence raj?

India is usually a generation or two late to catch up on the latest trend, and the same applies to the drone hobby as well. One wouldn’t be wrong in stating that there’s still quite a while to go before (anti-drone?) organizations such as NoFlyZone start showing up in the country. What the country needs, however, is a firm ruling on drone import and usage from the government’s part.

In the past couple of months, I’ve myself been the victim of this confused stance that the government holds against drones. I’ve had a couple drones on their way (via international post) to me seized by the government. The government (the WPC - Wireless Planning Commission - department, to be specific) requires you to be in possession of a WPC licence in order to have the drone containing parcel clear the customs check.

What’s funny is that the WPC licence in question is required for the 2.4GHz band -- one that’s free for public use. Mobile phones, WiFi routers, and even cordless phones use the 2.4GHz band, so it’s pretty clear that the complete WPC licence is only acting as proxy for the government while it gets its issues sorted. That was funny, but the fact that the same drone can be imported via private courier with no implications whatsoever is plain stupid, and that’s putting it mildly.

The story in developed markets such as the US though, is in stark contrast. A little over a week back, the country’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) formally laid down a new set of rules that allows drones to be involved in commercial operations. Of course, there’s a certain threshold to this -- drones that you intend to use for commercial applications must weigh under 55 pounds/25 kg -- but it at least marks a distinctly visible line. That’s how it should work not only in India, in every other country which dreams of being called a developed market.

Is drone e-com’s best friend?

Amazon has shown interest in having its deliveries done by drones. If you’re intrigued, you might find it interesting that China’s Alibaba already managed to try out delivery by drone earlier this month, which apparently was a thundering success. Now, this is not to say that the Indian government. should allow funds for desi e-commerce biggies to experiment with drone delivery, but rather something that it should add to the ‘pros’ list for later brainstorming.

With companies such as Samsung looking to enter the drone market, the drone revolution isn’t as far as you think. Be whether it is for the everyday hobbyist or the industrial lobbyist, there need to be rules and laws in place that tell the consumer, and the business, what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not.

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